Written by Betsy Abraham Wednesday, 04 September 2013 00:00
The Westbury School District will start the year without an investigative service, as the Board of Education continued to hold off on making a decision on whether or not to approve a contract for L.C. Investigative Consultant .
The district has used L.C. Investigative Consultant, for many years. More recently, they also began using True Blue Investigative Services, LLC. The board is waiting to make a decision on contracts until they hear a presentation from True Blue Investigative Services, LLC.
Because of the large volume of cases, the district uses two firms, for up to $25,000 each based on their services. And according to Lenny Cobbs, from L.C. Investigative
Consultant who presented at the August 22 Board Of Education meeting, there is a “very severe problem in the district of non-residents.”
At the request of the Board, Cobbs presented his firm’s methods for finding illegal residents and why they often have to put in extra hours.
The investigation begins when a staff member contacts Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) about a student they believe doesn’t live in the district. The request will go to Jorge
Santiago, who will then consult with the investigative firm. An investigator will talk to the principal and make a physical identification on the student, and then do a background investigation on the family.
After they have identified the student, they will do surveillance on the student. An investigator will follow the student from school to wherever they go. Often times they go to a babysitter and stay there until a parent picks them up. Once they’re picked up, the investigator will follow them to their legal or illegal address.
“If the first time they are followed to an illegal address, they stay an extra hour just to make sure that is the address the child's living at. Sometimes kids leave and go to where they’re actually living,” Cobbs said.
When they find a student living out of the district, an investigator will go to that house the next morning, early enough to see them coming out of the house to come to school. Cobbs said that was usually done over a three day period, and that video evidence was often compiled. Once the case has been made, the report is written up and given to PPS, who notifies the parents that the district believes they live out of district. Parents/guardians may request a residency hearing.
But Cobbs says that’s an easy case. He says he’s had cases go on for five to seven days because parents knew they were on the radar.
“Many times we find parents have become very smart as to what’s going on with surveillances. They mix it up to confuse us and sometimes they do. So we have to be patient because we don’t know where they’re going to go,” Cobbs said. “We have to be patient to see where they’re going to go and in that time, a lot of hours are accumulated.”
Another problem the firm has encountered when doing the investigations is school personnel who don’t cooperate.
“We have some school personnel who don’t particularly care for the investigations being done and they’re not helpful to us and they alert the students to who the investigators are and tell them to watch out,” Cobbs said.
“Residents have expressed a concern that the population has grown tremendously,” Trustee Karin Campbell said. “We wanted to see who was in our district so it troubles me that you would run into any opposition, other than from those who were guilty.”
Cobbs stressed that the firm wasn’t trying to take money from the district by conducting day long investigations, but that sometimes finding evidence took a lot of time
“It’s not because we’re griming money,” Cobbs said. “If you’re going to do a good investigation, we have to be patient and make sure the evidence we have is good.”
The fees for the services for both companies cost the district about the same. For both True Blue and L.C., resident verifications with a detailed report are $30 per half hour, residency investigations with a report are $60 an hour, DMV searches are $40, car mileage/travel expenses are 51 cents a mile. True Blue charges $75 an hour for video surveillance with a report, and L.C. charges $60 an hour.
Cobbs reported that in the span of one year, the firm will conduct 50 investigations, 20 of which will result in finding a student who doesn’t belong in the district. If a nonresident student is discovered, their parents will be charged tuition for the time they spent in the district. The annual student tuition rates are $9,452 (K-6th grade) and $18,367 (7-12th grade)
The cost to educate a child in the Westbury schools is $22,000 and several parents said hiring the firms is a good move.
“It’s cost effective having this man working,” Jose Johnson, a parent of four children in the district said. “I think it’s a good investment and money spent wisely.”
“20 kids is over $100,000. There is a cost to educating everyone in this district. That’s one of the reasons you have to find out the legal and illegal students. I’m glad you got even 20,” resident Dave Peterson said.
Resident Chester McGibbon was unimpressed with the results.
“I think this is an imagined problem. I don’t think 50 residents out of 4,000 is a severe problem. Every seat counts but I don’t think that’s going to break the bank," he said.
"What are they coming here for?”
“Services,” board trustee Pless Dickerson responded. “Many districts don’t have the quality of services we have. Not only special education, but second language.”
At the meeting, trustee Siela Bynoe also brought up the possibility of having the firm audit the district’s registration process, since they might have a more trained eye to know if something was off kilter.
“It’s possible. I think some type of system should be put together where we randomly pick students just to see if they’re at the same address as they registered at,” Cobb said.
However, Santiago thinks that the audit would be better handled by someone within the district.
“This would not be their expertise and the (audit) can be better accomplished in an efficient manner by a clerk-typist within a school if they were provided with overtime hours to devote their time/attention to this task beyond their respective work day,” Santiago said.